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Unleashing the Potential of AI in Pakistan’s Public Sector

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The Pulse | Economy | South Asia

Unleashing the Potential of AI in Pakistan’s Public Sector

While Pakistan has started adopting AI in various departments, the overall pace of technological growth remains slow, and the government’s commitment to technology adoption appears insufficient.

Unleashing the Potential of AI in Pakistan’s Public Sector
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Over the last two decades, artificial intelligence (AI) has caught the world’s attention, offering immense potential. Looking at the public sector, the adoption of artificial intelligence has the ability to revolutionize and improve government services, enabling greater public-private collaboration and transparency. The use of modern IT services such as AI has proved to be more successful than traditional approaches, improving government efficiency and digital services in a number of countries. 

Governments are recognizing AI’s potential, and some are devoting considerable resources to improve their technical infrastructure. For example, the European Union’s “Digital Europe Program” has allocated 8.2 billion euros between 2021 and 2027 to improve digital capabilities. Several other countries have followed suit, greatly spending in the creation and upgrade of their technology services. Global AI spending is expected to reach $98 billion in 2023, notching an annual growth rate of over 28 percent for the five years from 2018 to 2023.

How is Pakistan implementing AI in its public institutions, taking into account “Vision 2025” and “Digital Pakistan Policy 2018”? While Pakistan has started adopting AI in various departments, the overall pace of technological growth remains slow, and the government’s commitment to technology adoption appears insufficient. To thrive in the digital governance domain, Pakistan must embrace modern technologies to propel the government into the future.

The Power of AI in Government

The integration of artificial intelligence in governance goes back to the 1950s, when early innovations such as the ELIZA program set out to imitate human behavior. AI refers to different technological abilities that process data intelligently, and it can be classified as either weak AI (built for specialized tasks) or strong AI (having human-equivalent intellect). In government, AI programs may help with planning, research, optimization, machine learning, image recognition, and cybersecurity, while powering the Internet of Things (IoT), robots, and virtual assistants.

Organizations in the public sector throughout the world have seen the potential of AI to improve efficiency, policymaking, and public engagement. It provides solutions in a variety of fields, including citizen-government relations, taxes, law enforcement, and healthcare, hence improving service quality. Despite inadequate practical knowledge of the technology, the healthcare industry in Pakistan, for example, has welcomed AI for its favorable influence on service quality.

AI is also making an appearance in higher education and research institutes in Pakistan, thanks to initiatives by the Higher Education Commission. While AI adoption has already begun, challenges such as economic restrictions, implementation time, and the availability of technology-trained personnel persist.

The beneficial effect of AI on the economic and financial sectors is also apparent. In Pakistan, economic models have employed AI, notably Artificial Neural Networks, to increase predicting accuracy. AI algorithms have even outperformed traditional weather predicting methods. AI is also playing a moderating role in public sector organizations’ human resource activities, although considerable obstacles remain in properly integrating AI into numerous departments.

AI Institutions in Pakistan: A Step Toward Progress

The government of Pakistan has taken steps to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution by promoting digitalization through initiatives like “Vision 2025.” This outlines a roadmap for public-private partnerships in the IT sector, enabling educational institutions to adapt their curricula accordingly. E-governance strategies have been planned to upgrade IT infrastructure, promote e-government, e-health, e-education, and e-commerce, reflecting a vision of better government-citizen connectivity.

In the wake of Vision 2025, the Pakistani government has launched a number of projects over the last two decades to fulfill the country’s rising need for technology. These initiatives include the setting up of special IT zones, the Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA), and the development of software technology parks. The government is also working to improve digital capabilities in an array of industries, including healthcare, education, and agriculture.

Furthermore, Pakistan has developed AI institutes such as the Sino-Pak Center for Artificial Intelligence (SPCAI) and the Secretariat of the National Center of Artificial Intelligence (NCAI) to give solutions in fields such as smart cities, smart agriculture, deep learning, and natural disaster management. The Higher Education Commission has approved universities to offer AI in their curriculum, contributing to capacity building in the public and private sectors.

AI Adoption Challenges in Pakistan: A Complex Landscape

Despite these positive steps, Pakistan faces several challenges in adopting AI. On the Government AI Readiness Index, Pakistan ranks 92nd, far behind compared to countries like the United States (1st), China (17th), and India (32nd). Accessibility, mobile friendliness, and content accessibility on public organizations’ websites in Pakistan have fallen short of international standards.

Research reveals that AI adoption challenges in the public sector are multifaceted. These challenges encompass ethical and political issues, social and cultural dynamics, and the level of technical skills. Cybersecurity and data privacy concerns are particularly critical, as a breach could bring the entire AI system to a halt.

Bureaucratic structures within public offices, reluctance to accept AI, resistance to technology, and the fear of transitioning to machine-driven decision-making present further hurdles. These challenges are evident in various public sector domains in Pakistan, including the legal system, which lags behind countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and India in adopting AI for legal reforms and speedy case processing.

Policy Documents and Implementation: Bridging the Gap

Despite ambitious legislative proposals on digitalization such as Vision 2025 and Digital Pakistan Policy 2018, a real plan for deploying AI in public organizations is lacking. These texts prioritizes digital growth but give little insight on AI’s application in government organizations. As a result, these organizations’ issues have not been properly addressed.

Financial limitations constitute a significant problem, as AI deployment can be costly and necessitate large resources. Practical knowledge and experience are also in short supply in Pakistan, impeding the successful use of AI. Institutions require customized AI solutions that address their unique requirements, yet these remain immature.

Many public organizations are hesitant to embrace AI due to concerns about data security and privacy. Additional challenges to technology adoption include the bureaucratic structure, paper-based processes, and hostility to technology. Pakistan also faces a lack of organizational-level policies, inexperienced staff, licensing issues, and an underdeveloped IT infrastructure.

Unlocking the Potential of AI in Pakistan’s Public Sector

If these challenges can be overcome, AI holds immense potential to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Pakistan’s public sector organizations. By embracing AI, these institutions can improve their performance in policymaking, governance, and public service delivery. 

While Pakistan has made strides in the digital realm, challenges in AI adoption persist. Addressing the challenges requires concerted efforts and comprehensive strategies. The government, in collaboration with educational institutions and the private sector, must invest in training and capacity building for AI professionals. Robust cybersecurity measures and data privacy protocols are essential for instilling trust in AI systems. Streamlining bureaucratic processes and promoting a culture of technological adoption can expedite AI integration. Moreover, public sector organizations must focus on formulating AI policies that align with their specific needs and allocate adequate budgets for AI initiatives. Collaboration and information sharing with international partners can facilitate knowledge transfer and best practices.

In conclusion, Pakistan’s journey toward unlocking the potential of AI in its public sector requires a strategic and collaborative approach. By addressing these challenges, Pakistan can harness the transformative power of AI to improve its public services, governance, and overall digital landscape. 

The future is digital, and Pakistan must be ready to embrace it.